Plowing for the Present

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Image credit: http://www.dochammill.com
Well, if we were hoping for a comforting word from Jesus this morning, it seems that we have come to the wrong place.  The gospel reading this morning provides us with little comfort in the words that Jesus gives to those that either volunteer or are asked to follow Jesus along the way.  Each of them seems to give Jesus a fairly reasonable response to his call only to get some rather discomforting words back from Jesus as he sets his face towards Jerusalem.

When we get readings like this, it is tempting to twist things up enough until we are able to be a little bit more comfortable from the reading of the text.  It is tempting to try to read it as simply a call story versus a challenge to us in the contemporary era.  It is tempting to take the text and to make it say something other than what it says.  It is tempting for us to hunger for the nice, warm, smiling Jesus instead of the Jesus that challenges us to go further in our acceptance of Christ’s call on our own lives.

The three different sayings that we get at the end of the gospel lesson today are all meant to draw out what it is going to mean to be a follower of Jesus in different ways.  Each saying is meant to convey some aspect of truth about being a disciple of Jesus, and each saying holds a unique challenge within it as we seek to live out a life of discipleship that is in keeping with Jesus’ life and ministry.   Continue reading

The Guts of Compassion

Have you ever thought about the beginnings of the word compassion?  What does it mean when we say that we have compassion for a person or a people group?  Is it as simple as having pity for another, or does the meaning go much deeper than that?  In the short story that we get from the Gospel according to Luke this evening, we get a profound telling of what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do on our behalf.  In this short narrative, we begin to get a glimpse of the compassion that God has for us through the life of the Son that is powered by the Spirit.

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Image source: http://www.patheos.com
The word for compassion in the Greek text is related to the word for guts or entrails.  In fact, the root of the word for having compassion is the word that means entrails.  In order to have compassion, it is not simply deciding to be compassionate to another.  in the Greek, it means that you are moved within the depths of your being for another person.  You are gripped within your gut to take action on behalf of another in order to improve their lot in life.  It is an emotion that springs up from the deepest parts of the body and inspires us to look out at ways that we can be a gift to another.

In the gospel text this evening, we are given a story in which Jesus was moved out of the very depths of his personhood to change the reality for a mother that lost her only son.  In having compassion for her – feeling pity for her within the depths of his entrails, his guts – Jesus performs an act of charity, a profound act of kindness, for the woman and for her son.  Jesus takes a moment to allow the power of God the Spirit to work through him and to flow out towards another person, whom he does not know.  Jesus pauses for long enough to recognize that the loss of an only son is an experience filled with pain and suffering; Jesus pauses long enough to take the time to enter into that pain and suffering in order to change it from sadness into joy.

(LONG PAUSE)

It was late in the summer of 2005.  It had been several days since the destruction of the small city had taken place.  Now, the landscape was filled with debris from trees, houses toppled over, smashed cars, and the ruins of what were once vibrant neighborhoods.  Communication outside the city was nearly impossible as all the communication lines were either filled with water or disconnected from any source of power, which continued to be out across the city landscape.  It was very unlikely that anyone actually understood that the destruction had been so strong this far inland.  It certainly was not the norm for storms of these types; of course, this latest storm had been anything but normal.

As the day wore on, the folks worked feverishly to find solutions to the problems the local community faced in the aftermath of the storm.  Though the resources available were dwindling quickly, they continued to share whatever resources they had available to serve the community.  It was beginning to get very uncertain how much longer they would be able to sustain any kind of response – no matter how pitiful it might have been – without some help from outside.  Hope was hanging by a thread.

In the late evening, the sun began to set and the work for the day began to wind down.  Another long, hard day of trying to find resources to respond to the growing needs of the community.  Another day filled with difficult, gut wrenching questions to which there were no good answers.  Then, hope appeared slowly turning into the drive way.  Three large trucks modeled after the box shaped ambulance turned into the drive each carrying a load of fresh supplies and volunteers.  People entered into the pain of the community and brought with them hope – the realization that others were aware of what was happening in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Those volunteers entered into the pain and suffering of a disaster-torn landscape.  They entered into the landscape to suffer with those that were directly affected by the hurricane.  They had compassion.  Interestingly, the roots for the English word compassion are two words in Latin –  “com” meaning together and “pati” to suffer.  To have compassion for another is to suffer with that person together.  It is to enter into their reality and be present with them in that reality.  It is to freely enter into a landscape torn by a disaster in order to suffer through those hardships while also bringing hope.  It is precisely what Jesus does in the narrative this evening.  He enters into the mother’s reality of suffering and brings hope into the situation.  In seeing her tears of sadness, Jesus had compassion – a gut wrenching pity for her that called him to suffer with her together.

We, too, are called to have that kind of compassion with our fellow human beings, but the more challenging thing for us is to find that gut wrenching desire to help another in the face of everyday injustices.  Injustices like poverty, mental illness, homelessness, hunger; these are the injustices within our time that deserve our compassion – our willingness to suffer together with those that feel the brunt of these injustices.  In finding the courage to have compassion for the poor, the hungry, the destitute, the mentally ill, the homeless, the migrant or any other person suffering under the weight of societal injustices, we are taking part in the ministry of God’s justice.  When we enter into suffering with another together and bring the hope of Christ into that situation, we are sharing the power of the Spirit just as Jesus did in the gospel narrative tonight.  We are allowing the power of the Spirit to flow through us to touch the life of another, and in so doing, we find that the Spirit has an even more profound effect in our own lives.  We discover that by allowing God’s blessings to flow through us, we also receive more blessings from the people we meet in our own suffering.  Enter into your own ministry of compassion – of suffering together with another – and take the light of Christ out into the world to share His joy and hope.

Building Gates of Enough

These great mysteries that surround us.  They are not trivial things that are to be forgotten; they are not the sort of things for which there is a solution.  Instead, they are those things that ring around us with so many answers.  They are the mysteries of Father, Son, Spirit – or perhaps you prefer something less concrete to describe the mysterious three.  Perhaps something along the lines of Creator, Word, Wisdom.  Those very mysteries that invite us, call us, beckon us to come closer, deeper.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is one that continues to baffle us in the most appropriate ways.  It is a mystery that serves us by not giving us clear cut answers to the question, posed by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Who is this God person anyway?”  Instead of giving us clear cut answers about the nature of God’s person, the Trinity calls us deeper and deeper into the reality of God’s being through our own questions that we bring to God in our prayers, in our daily living, and in the ways that we practice relationship with friends, family, strangers.  It is a mystery that serves us in the way that all holy mysteries serve us – by drawing us ever deeper into the mystery of God and by encouraging us to come up with our own words to make claims about who we understand God to be.

The Trinity is how we come to enumerate the reality of the three persons of God – Father, Son, and Spirit.  But, it is also a way for us to understand how God desires us to be in relationship with each other and with creation.  It is a way for us to understand the movements of God’s ruling passion – the passion of deep, sacrificial love.  The Trinity is a way for us to enter into the reality of the divine, and it is a way for us to understand the depths of God’s love for God’s creation.  At the same time, it is something that confounds us precisely because it teaches us differently than the world teaches.

In an article in The Atlantic this week, Uri Friedman writes about the walls within the current era.  In fact, quite startlingly, Uri reports that walls and border fences are going up across the world at the fastest rate since the Cold War.  The borderlands of the world – whether those are borders between countries or between cultures – have become a major focus of leaders in the world today.  The borderlands are a place that inspire a sense of fear, a sense of danger.  In response, we are building walls around those borderlands and trying to create the best form of wall technology to keep the differences at bay for as long as we can.  We look out across the borderlands and realize that in order to protect what we have in the now, we must create some

US-Mexico Border Fence courtesy of University of California, Berkeley.
US-Mexico Border Fence courtesy of University of California, Berkeley.

kind of barrier against that which would encroach upon it.  Interestingly enough, the border fences and walls that have been built between 2000 and 2014 are most commonly built by wealthier nations in order to keep out the citizens of poorer nations.  Examples of such structures are to be found in the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border, in Israel on the border of the West Bank, and in Saudi Arabia along its border with Yemen.

These walls of protection go against what we learn from the life of the Trinity in the way that the Trinity enters into our lives.  The Father, Son, and Spirit work, in the Biblical narratives and in our lives today, to bring down the walls that emphasize difference as threat.  The Trinity works within the reality of our lives to teach us that the differences that we notice between persons are the very gifts of the Spirit that we inherit as adopted daughters and sons of God the Father through the life, death, and resurrection of God the Son and the granting of God the Spirit to us to continue the work that the Son began in his earthly pilgrimage.  The differences that are currently understood as threats are, in the life of the Trinity, the very things that make up the entirety of the image of God, the image in which we are created.

The Trinity alters our understanding of other persons we meet because the Trinity works within the boundaries of human creation to knit us together in the unified life of Father, Son, and Spirit.  The persons of the Trinity work together, in a single mission, to call us into the reality of God’s ruling passion – the passion of love that destroys the barriers between us and God.  The ruling passion of the Trinity enters into our own realities, realities characterized by suffering, pain, disease, and works to invite us into the reality of God’s abundance.  It is an invitation to share in the work of Christ by inviting others into God’s abundance in the ways that we pray our own lives.

And while God’s reality, the reality of the love that is shared by Father, Son, and Spirit, is a reality of abundance, it is an abundance that flows out to us in the form of enough.  The life of the Trinity teaches us that the worldview of scarcity, through which we understand the world, is not the way that God speaks creation into existence.  Instead, the abundance of God, found within the movements of the Trinity, is also true within the boundaries of creation in the here and now.  It is an abundance of love and grace that flows out from the Father, Son, and Spirit and enters into our lives.  It is an abundance that spills over into creation and calls creation into existence.  It is an abundance that promises us that there is enough.  It is an abundance that is true because the Father, Son, and Spirit continue to walk with us in the midst of the pain, suffering, and death that is easily found in our own experiences of life.

It is said often that the opposite of scarcity is abundance.  The reality is that the opposite of scarcity is enough.  The abundance of God’s love is the opposite of scarcity in the sense that it is through the abundance of God’s grace that we have enough to enter into the Divine life of Father, Son, and Spirit.  It is the only abundance that comes without expense to another, and it is the kind of abundance that teaches us all we need to do is to put our faith in God.  In putting all of our faith in God, we will be granted enough, and we will find that we enter into a renewed creation as we ascend into the life of the Divine through the life of the Trinity.

In a way, the Trinity itself becomes a metaphor for us to follow in living our own lives within the boundaries of creation.  Though we do not share in the same nature as God, we are able to enter into the life of the Divine through our adoption as children of the Father.  We are able to look at the life of Christ, a life powered by the Spirit, to see what complete faithfulness to the Father looks like.  We are able to look at the Cross and see that it is ourselves that we have crucified, and we are able to finally recognize that the gifts of Son and Spirit invite us to join them in the mission of the Father – a mission of love and salvation for creation.  It is a mission that came from the abundance of God’s self – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and promises enough.  It is a mission of love, of sacrifice, of invitation, and of service.  It is a mission that beckons to us and pleads with us to bring down the walls of scarcity in order to erect the gates of enough.

The Action of Words

“Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

In this short quote from the end of John’s gospel text, Jesus is asking us to become like Christ in the way that we move in this life, and Jesus gives to us the gift of understanding that words are meaningful only when those words are embodied in our lives.  Words, in this sense, have a physicality to them that break the boundaries of the spoken word or of the written word, both of which seem to be locked into a medium of their own – advancing only so far.  The wall, this boundary of physicality, seems to keep the thoughts, the words, the imaginings of humanity bound into a limited sphere in which the word is one thing while action is another.  And then, we encounter Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh.

In the person of Jesus we encounter not just word or just action but the combination of the two into a single entity that is completely divine.  Christ enters into our reality in the Word incarnate and brings with him everything that is God.  Jesus’ entire being is the Divine being that exists outside of our sphere of understanding, yet God is made known within our sphere through the person of Jesus – the divine Word that comes among us and walks along side us.  In Christ, we discover that God’s word is God’s action, and God’s action is God’s Word.  The two things that seem separated by this boundary – word and action – are made a single reality in the person of Jesus.  The second person of the Trinity, then, invites us into that same reality to the extent that we are able to participate in the divine being – to the extent that we are able to match our words to our actions, our faith to our embodiment of it. Continue reading

A Strange New World

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“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” – John 20:25b NRSV

The words of Thomas come up in the lectionary every single year on this, the second Sunday of Easter.  Every year we get the tale of “Doubting Thomas,” and perhaps the most regularly preached sermon as it relates to this particular scripture is a sermon about doubt as intrinsic to having a life of faith.  It is preached countless times – not to fear having doubts in your own faith life but to embrace those moments as moments of calling you deeper into your own life of faith as you walk your journey of discipleship.  While I do not discount the validity of the message, I do question if it is the best way for us to move forward in the contemporary era, and I question it as a way forward because that line of thought assumes a comfortableness with the Easter story – something that I think is, perhaps, deadening to our growth as disciples of Christ.

The interesting thing about the way that Easter is preached in the modern era is that we understand it first as a story of consolation.  We enter into it with a sort of jubilant expectation.  The story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection should be completely startling to us.  It should be a story that, when told, invokes a sense of fear of a certain sort.  It is the sort of fear that happens when our current systems of language, of processing the material world, of being able to understand what is taking place in front of us fail.  The ways that we have, as creatures, to cope with the reality in front of us are short circuited, and we are left speechless because the information is too incredible, too impossible to be true.  The fear that the story might create in us is the same fear of which Paul speaks when he admonishes us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  In other words, the fear will seize us for a moment until we are able to come to the realization that God has taken the ultimate action for the salvation of creation by virtue of the nature of God’s self. Continue reading